It’s never an easy life being a freshman starting at cornerback in the Big 12 Conference. But Texas Tech’s Jarvis Phillips has no trouble pinpointing his hardest day and the receiver who gave him the rudest introduction to college football.
Texas A&M’s Jeff Fuller tortured him throughout the Aggies’ 45-27 romp last year in College Station. Fuller’s 11 catches for 171 yards were career highs, and he scored two touchdowns — one each against Phillips and another then-freshman corner, Tre Porter.
“It was pretty much the worst day in the whole season for me,” said Phillips, who led the team with four interceptions and 10 pass breakups. “There were other losses, but that loss particularly was one of the worst, because I kind of felt like it was my fault. He had a good game, and I kind of let the game get out of control, so I definitely don’t want that to happen again.”
Texas A&M (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) visits Tech (4-0, 1-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday, and many of the key characters remain the same. Fuller has 17 catches for 186 yards this season, which is second on the team in both categories to Ryan Swope, and Tech’s starting corners are Phillips and Porter.
The Red Raiders had no answer for Fuller’s size a year ago. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior from McKinney Boyd towers over Phillips (5-10, 196) and Porter (6-0, 205). At times in last year’s game, A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill simply lofted the ball up high and watched Fuller use his size advantage to snatch passes over the Tech corners.
Asked what he learned from that game, Phillips says he has to be more physical.
“I think I gave him too many easy releases,” Phillips said Tuesday. “Just compete a little harder. He caught the ball way too easily last year, so I definitely want to do a better job of defending him overall.”
Fuller’s far from the only tough matchup for Tech. With the Red Raiders having the nation’s 117th-ranked rush defense, there’s considerable question whether they can slow running backs Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray, who make A&M one of four teams in the country with two top-50 rushers. The A&M tandem have three 100-yard rushing performances in the Aggies’ two straight wins over Tech.
But in Phillips’ and Porter’s little corner of the world, the bigger number in last year’s game was 449 — Tannehill’s school-record passing yardage total — and Fuller provided much of that.
“He’s a tremendous player,” Porter said. “He’s a big target on the outside, so we’re going to probably have to double cover him more or get a taller guy out there to cover him.”
Phillips was mostly sailing along, having a stellar freshman season, before he encountered the Aggies in game eight. He had four interceptions in his first three games of 2010, and had been Tech’s defensive player of the game in a win at Colorado the week before the A&M game.
The week after the disaster in College Station, Tech posted its biggest victory of 2010, a 24-17 upset of No. 14 Missouri. Phillips said he started to rebuild his confidence in that game, when he broke up two passes.
“My Pops always told me, ‘No good player has two bad games in a row,’” Phillips said. “So you just make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Last year’s A&M game wasn’t Phillips’ last rocky stretch. He underwent shoulder surgery in the off-season and lost his starting job before this season. Defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow said in August that Phillips needed to be more consistent.
However, Phillips replaced starter Derrick Mays midway through Tech’s 35-34 victory against Nevada on Sept. 24 and was back in the starting lineup last week.
“It was real tough,” Phillips said of his time on the bench. “Really, I had to tell myself the bigger picture and stay positive — just tell myself, ‘When they’re ready for you, give them a reason not to take you out.’”
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